Training office staff critical to school entrance access control

Posted by on February 27, 2014

Many schools are using various door entry systems to aid in visitor screening. Strong access control and visitor management is one important component of a comprehensive school safety strategy.

One weakness we consistently see in our security assessment consultations nationwide is in the training of main office and other staff who use the security technology installed to enhance main entrance access control. Too often we see a camera/buzzer/magnetic lock at the entry way, but little training and few-to-no procedures on who should be allowed and how denied access should be carried out.

Our front office secretarial support staff perform are an integral part of school operations. They perform a multitude of tasks, often multi-tasking throughout the day. They deserve to have appropriate protocols developed to aid and empower them in the important task of screening school visitors.

The decision not to allow entrance to someone buzzing at front entrance is a legitimate concern, and should be a decision made when certain criteria are reached. For example:

  • Do office support staff not recognize the person at the door and their verbal reason for requesting entry raises concerns?
  • Can office staff not make a clear visual identification of the person on the camera?
  • Are there concerns of others in the doorway area who might piggyback entry on the legitimate visitor if the buzzer is activated to open the door?
  • Is the person at the door known to staff as a non-custodial parent or other person who has caused difficulty on previous occasions?

There are a few of the numerous situations where access may be denied. We also recognize that each school district has its own culture and climate which must be taken into consideration, as well. But support staff must be provided with clear guidelines and support to avoid undesired access that could cause harm to students and staff, and substantial embarrassment to school leaders.

We train school administrators and support staff with practical guidance to consider on this topic to help administrators and office support staff create some basic guidance such as:

  • What questions should be asked before considering opening the door?
  • Is it o.k. not to let someone in (answer: yes) and will the support staff be backed up by administrators (the answer should be “yes”)?
  • Once a person is denied entry, what are the next steps to be followed by office staff?
  • What verbal de-escalation training and techniques have been provided to office support staff to deal with frustrated, angry, and/or potential violent visitors?
  • What emergency guidelines are in place that apply if verbal de-escalation intervention is not successful?

The difficult decision to deny access should not be left to support staff to determine without support and guidance. Administrative direction must be provided. This direction and training must be consistent district-wide and not left to individual building administrators. In some districts this may appropriately be a board policy decision.

It is very important for school administrators to back their office support staff and others who reasonably decide to deny access based upon their judgment, training, and the protocols put in place. A lack of administrator support and consistency weakens school, support site, or administrative office security practices, and sends an inconsistent message to the school-community about the value and credibility of the district’s safety practices.

Having reasonable protocols, training staff, and communicating expectations to parents, other visitors, staff, and students will help insure the purpose of the security technology and the integrity of the school’s security plan.

Chuck Hibbert

Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services

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One thought on “Training office staff critical to school entrance access control

  1. I believe Chuck has it right in every respect about providing support and training. It even goes further than that in many areas where the “it won’t happen here” attitude still prevails. The school district in my area still has an attitude that access control puts a barrier between students and the access of their parents. They do not like the optics. The stenos and secretaries also will not be opening doors as they do not believe it to be their function. In many areas the basic mindset of controlling access still must change and I would rather it be done through education than have it forced by tragedy. It is still so difficult to get administrators and elected officials to budge if something did not happen in their own backyard. Having offered these discussions free of charge and being politely ignored demonstrates a lack of political will and a head-in-the-sand approach to security, years after the phenomena of school shootings started happening with regularity.

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